The Companion Dog Title

The Companion Dog Title

In This Chapter

  • Doing the Stand for Examination exercise
  • Transitioning to and accomplishing Heeling Off Leash
  • Perfecting the Recall exercise
  • Excelling at the group exercises

Chapter Getting Ready to Compete introduces the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Novice class and its goal — the Companion Dog title. That chapter gives an overview of the six required exercises for the title and the points needed to earn that title, and it also provides the nitty-gritty details for completing the first exercise. This chapter covers the remainder of the exercises for the Companion Dog title:

– Stand for Examination

– Heeling Off Leash

– Recall

– Group Exercises

  • Long Sit
  • Long Down


During a training session, practice different exercises, and vary the order. Start with some brisk heeling as a warm-up, including fast starts and changes of pace. Keep training interesting and fun for both of you.

The Stand for Examination

The Stand for Examination is a requirement for the Novice class, but it’s also a practical and useful command to teach your dog in general. Brushing, grooming, and wiping feet, as well as visiting the vet, are certainly a lot easier with a dog that’s been trained to stand still than with one that’s in perpetual motion.
In the ring, Stand for Examination looks something like this: You give your leash to the steward. Then the judge says, “Stand your dog and leave when ready.” You stand your dog in Heel position (see Chapter Mastering Basic Training), say “Stay,” walk six feet straight forward in front of your dog, turn around, and stand facing the dog. The judge approaches your dog from in front and touches your dog’s head, body, and hindquarters with one hand. The judge then says, “Back to your dog.” You walk around behind your dog and return to the Heel position.


When you put Buddy into a Stand, watch his front feet. They must remain in place and not move forward. You can lock them in place by applying a little downward pressure with two fingers in his collar underneath his chin as you stand him.

When you begin teaching this exercise to your dog, you can stand, kneel on your right knee or both knees, or have the dog on a table, depending on his size. You want to avoid leaning over him, because if you do, he’ll want to move away from you — especially if he’s low in defense fight behaviors (see Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Mind).

Teaching Buddy the “Stand” command

To prepare Buddy for the Stand for Examination exercise, you’ll need to teach him a number of sequences. First, you need to teach him to stand on command. Then you need to teach him to stand still, and finally, the examination part of the exercise.
Your Sequence 1 goal is to teach your dog the “Stand” command:
1. Start with Buddy sitting at your left side, off leash, with both of you facing the same direction.


Make sure your shoulders are square and not turned toward him.

2. Put the thumb of your right hand in the collar under his chin, fingers pointing to the floor, palm open and flat against his chest.
3. Apply a little downward pressure on the collar, say “Stand,” and at the same time, apply backward pressure on his stifles (the joint of the hind leg between the thigh and the second thigh — the dog’s knees) with the back of your left hand.

(See Figure 14-1.)

4. Keep both hands still and in place — the right hand through the collar and the left hand against his stifles, and count to 10.
5. Praise and release.
Repeat this exercise three to five times per session over the course of several sessions.
Figure 14-1: Placing your hands properly for the “Stand” command.

Teaching Buddy to stand still: The hands-on method

Sequence 2’s goal is to teach Buddy to stand still:
1. Place your dog into a Stand (see the preceding section).
2. With both hands on your dog, keep him standing still to the count of 30.
3. Over the course of several sessions, increase the time you keep him standing still to one minute.

Teaching Buddy to stand still: The hands-off method

Your Sequence 3 goal is to get your dog to stand still without holding him in position:

1. Place Buddy into a Stand (see “Teaching Buddy the ‘Stand’ command” earlier in this chapter).
2. Take away your left hand.

3. Count to 30.

Reposition him if he moves.

4. Praise and then release.
5. When he’s steady without you holding onto him with your left hand, take your right hand out of the collar.
It will take Buddy several sessions to learn this sequence.


Praise is a verbal thing — not a petting thing. When you praise Buddy, be sure that he remains in position. Praise tells him he’s doing something correctly and isn’t an invitation to move. Don’t confuse verbal praise with the release.

Teaching Buddy the “Stand-Stay” command

Sequence 4’s goal is to teach Buddy the Stand and Stay:
1. Stand your dog as described in “Teaching Buddy the ‘Stand’ command” earlier in this chapter.
2. Take both hands off your dog and stand up, keeping your shoulders square.
3. Signal and say “Stay.”
4. Count to 30, praise, and release.
5. Practice until you can stand next to him for one minute without him moving.


Learning the “Stand” command (or “Sit” or “Down-Stay”) isn’t exciting for your dog, so follow the exercise with something he enjoys. After the release, play ball or throw a stick. Give him something to look forward to.

Leaving Buddy in a Stand-Stay

Ready for Sequence 5? You’re going to leave Buddy in a Stand-Stay position:
1. Stand next to your sitting dog.
2. Put the thumb of your right hand through the collar as in Sequence 1 (see “Teaching Buddy the ‘Stand’ command” earlier in this chapter).


Depending on the size of your dog, you may have to bend at the knees to avoid leaning over him.

3. With a little downward pressure on the collar, say “Stand.”

He should now stand without you having to touch his stifles.

4. Take your right hand out of the collar and stand up straight.
5. Say “Stay,” and step directly in front of him.
6. Count to 30, step back to a Heel position, praise, and release.

Reposition him if he moves.

7. Gradually increase the distance you leave him to six feet in front.
8. From now on when you leave him, go six feet straight forward, turn and face him (don’t back away from him), count to 30, go back, praise, and release.

Teaching Buddy the Return

Your Sequence 6 goal is to teach the Return behind your dog:
1. Stand your dog (see “Teaching Buddy the ‘Stand’ command” earlier in this chapter), and go six feet in front (see the preceding section).
2. Go back to your dog, put two fingers of your left hand on his withers to steady him, and walk around behind him to the Heel position.
3. Pause, making sure he doesn’t move, praise, and release.
4. When he understands that you’re going to come around behind him, eliminate touching him as you return to the Heel position.


Dog shows are held indoors and outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions. If the dog show you’re attending is outdoors and it’s raining, the judge will have on rain gear, which may include a big, floppy hat — something your dog may not have experienced before. Don’t be caught unprepared: Practice under those unpleasant conditions.

Teaching Buddy the actual examination

Sequence 7’s goal is to teach Buddy the examination part of the exercise. For this sequence, you need a helper. At this time, the helper can be a family member. Eventually, however, Buddy has to be examined by a stranger, and because the judge can be either male or female, you need to practice with both men and women.

To introduce your dog to this exercise, start with the Sit for Examination, which is almost identical to Sitting Politely for Petting in the Canine Good Citizen test (see Chapter Preparing for Your Dog’s Citizenship Test). Do the following:

1. Put the rings of the collar on top of the dog’s neck.
2. Attach your leash to the collar.
3. Sit your dog at the Heel position.
4. Neatly fold the leash into your left hand, hold it above his head, and say “Stay.”
5. Have your helper approach and offer your dog the palm of his or her hand.


If Buddy tries to say hello to the helper, reinforce the “Stay” command with a check straight up.

6. Have your helper lightly touch Buddy’s head and back.
7. Praise and release.
8. Repeat Steps 1 through 7 until he readily permits the examination.

Practice the examination over the course of several sessions.

9. Repeat the steps off leash with your dog standing at heel, then with you standing directly in front, then three feet in front, and finally six feet in front.
Before every exercise, the judge asks, “Are you ready?” We answer with “Ready!” for the heeling exercises and “Yes” for everything else. (Check out Chapter Getting Ready to Compete for how to prepare your dog for the “Ready!” command.)

Transitioning to Heeling Off Leash

To make the transition from Heeling On Leash to Heeling Off Leash, we use a technique called umbilical cord. This maneuver lets you and your dog experience the feeling of Heeling Off Leash while he’s still attached. Here’s how it works:
1. With your dog sitting in the Heel position and the leash attached to the collar, take the loop end of the leash in your right hand and pass it around behind you into your left hand.
2. With your right hand, unsnap the leash from the collar, pass the snap through the loop of the leash, and reattach it to the collar.
3. Pull on the leash to tighten the loop end around your waist at your left side.

4. Put your left hand against your belt buckle, and let your right hand swing naturally at your side.

5. Say “Buddy, heel,” and start to walk your normal brisk pace.

If your dog deviates from Heel position, slowly reach for the collar. Put two fingers of your left hand through the collar, palm facing you, at the side of his neck, and bring him back to Heel position. Keep walking, let go of the collar, and tell him what a good dog he is. If Buddy is a small dog or has long hair, use the leash snap to bring him back to Heel position.


Use slow, deliberate movements when training. When you reach for your dog, be sure you do it slowly so as not to frighten him. Remember, he’s still on leash and can’t go anywhere. If you start snatching at him, he’ll become apprehensive and try to bolt.

For Buddy, this lesson is important. He learns to accept you reaching for the collar so that you can do it when he’s actually off leash. Reaching slowly is so important so you don’t inadvertently teach him to become apprehensive when you reach for his collar.


If you have difficulty getting two fingers through the collar — because your dog is small or has lots of hair around his neck — use the leash snap to bring him back to Heel position. When you get to the off-leash part, put a little hang tag on his collar that you can easily grasp.

The umbilical cord technique teaches your dog that it’s his responsibility to remain in Heel position. Unless he learns to accept that responsibility, he won’t be reliable off leash. You can help the process by being consistent in reminding him of that responsibility. Anytime you make a move to bring him back, you must follow through. If Buddy deviates and you reach for the collar, but he corrects himself and you do nothing, Buddy doesn’t learn anything.


Keep the time and distance short, and you have a better chance of maintaining your dog’s interest and attention.

Gradually increase the number of steps, make a right turn, take another ten steps and halt, praise, and release. Remember to say your dog’s name before you make the turn. Start over and incorporate an about-turn, using his name before the turn. Also incorporate changes of pace. You get the picture.
As you and your dog’s proficiency increase, add distractions in the order you did in Chapter Getting Ready to Compete. You also need to gradually increase the time and distance that you heel your dog before a halt. How much total time should you spend on this exercise? After a two-minute warm-up of heeling in Control Position (see Chapter Getting Ready to Compete) in a large circle or straight line with plenty of releases, you should spend no more than one to two minutes per training session.

Heeling Off Leash

Heeling Off Leash, although it’s really only an extension of Heeling On Leash, isn’t quite the same. Buddy knows when he’s on leash and when he’s off leash. When he’s on leash, he may give you the impression that he’s perfect. Then you take the leash off, and he acts as though he has no idea what the exercise is all about. The reason is simple — he knows he’s off leash.
If this situation happens to you, review Heeling On Leash (refer to Chapter Getting Ready to Compete), and reinforce the “Heel” command with a treat or a check when he needs help. For normal pace, he usually doesn’t need any reinforcement, but he probably does for changes of pace and turns.


You can remind your dog of his responsibility to remain in Heel position by taking him by the collar as you do when heeling with umbilical cord (see the preceding section).

Remember that Heeling Off Leash is the ultimate test of your training. With a little practice, Buddy will get the hang of it. To make sure he understands, 90 percent of your practicing should be done on leash so you can remind him what you expect from him.
You’re now ready for Heeling Off Leash. If you have any doubt about what Buddy will do, practice in a safe area, such as your backyard.
1. Start with a two-minute warm-up in Control Position (see Chapter Getting Ready to Compete).

Walk in a large circle or a straight line. Forget about turns, and concentrate on keeping his attention on you.

Now is the time to remind him to pay attention to you. Check, if you have to, and then praise and release.

2. Set up for umbilical cord (see the preceding section), and heel for 10 to 15 steps and release.

Set up again and heel for about the same distance and halt.

3. Put your right hand against his chest, place him into a Sit, and stand up.
4. Unclip the leash from his collar, and put the snap into your left pocket so a loop dangles on your side.
5. Say “Buddy, heel,” and start at a brisk pace.

If you need to reinforce, very slowly reach for his collar, bring him back, let go, and praise.

6. Halt after ten steps, and sit your dog.

7. Put the leash back on your dog and release.
8. Go on to another exercise or end your session.
Proficiency comes in small increments and not all at once. Add something new to your off-leash heeling each session, such as a turn (use his name) or a change of pace. Keep it short and snappy, and make it exciting and fun. Over the course of several sessions, both you and Buddy will become increasingly confident and begin to work as a team. Resist the temptation to go beyond his ability to be successful.
When you and your dog are comfortable doing this exercise in an area relatively free of distractions, you can go on to Heeling Off Leash with Distractions.  Use the same order as you do when Heeling Off Leash — that is, making it incrementally more difficult as you progress. When you come to halt, put your right hand against Buddy’s chest for the Sit.

The Recall

The Recall exercise is different from the traditional “Come” command, where you’re only concerned about the dog coming to you. The Recall consists of four components:
  • Stay
  • Come
  • Front
  • Finish
The Recall is performed from one end of the ring to the other. The judge tells you to leave your dog in a Sit-Stay and to go to the other side of the ring. He or she then tells you to call your dog. You give the “Come” command, Buddy comes, and he’s expected to sit directly in front of you. The judge then says “Finish,” and you say “Buddy, heel,” and Buddy goes to the Heel position.


Chapter Mastering Basic Training covers the basics of the “Stay” command. We cover training your dog to stay with distraction in “The Group Exercises” section later in this chapter. For the Recall exercise, the judge designates the starting point for the exercise, usually at the far end of the ring. He or she tells you to leave your dog. You say, “Stay” and leave your dog, going to the opposite end of the ring. The judge then tells you to call your dog. You call, Buddy comes, and he sits directly in front of you. The judge then says, “Finish,” and you give the “Heel” command and Buddy goes to heel.

Come with distractions

Even though Buddy already knows the “Come” command, you still need to work on distraction training — for which you need a helper. Leave Buddy in a Sit-Stay, and go 20 feet in front. Have your helper position herself equidistant between you and Buddy — about two feet from Buddy’s anticipated line of travel. Facing Buddy, the helper crouches and smiles.
Call your dog, and as he passes the distracter, release backward with an enthusiastic “Okay!” Then give him a treat when he gets to you. If he goes to the distracter, smile and very slowly approach Buddy. Put the leash on the dead ring of the training collar and, with a little tension on the leash, show him exactly what he should’ve done by trotting backward to the spot where you called him. Praise and release backward. You may have to show him a few times until he catches on. After he’s successful, stop for that session.


Release backward any time you want to encourage the dog when he’s coming toward you. Lean backward, throw up your hands invitingly, and take a few steps back with an enthusiastic “Okay!”

If your dog veers from the distracter, use two distracters, separated by about ten feet, and teach your dog to come between them. As Buddy progresses in his training, work your way through second and third degree distractions.


The purpose of distraction training is to build your and your dog’s confidence that he can do it. It also teaches him to concentrate on what he’s supposed to do. If at any time you feel the exercise is too much for him, stop. Come back to it at another session.


The object of both the Front and the Finish (see the following section) is to teach the dog a position, and you can practice both exercises inside in the form of a game. The Front is similar to the Automatic Sit at Heel (see Chapter Getting Ready to Compete) in that the dog is supposed to come to you and sit in front without a command to sit. We like to use a chute to teach the dog exactly where we want him to sit when he comes to us. For a chute, we use plastic rain gutters, commensurate to the size of the dog. They should be about as long as your dog. Place them on the ground, just far enough apart so your dog can sit comfortably in between.


When practicing the Front, keep the upper part of your body erect. If you lean over or toward your dog, he won’t come in close enough. If you need to get down to his level, bend at the knees.

Getting Buddy used to the chute

Sequence 1’s goal is to get Buddy used to the chute:
1. Place the chute on the ground.
2. Walk your dog through the chute a few times.
3. Heel your dog into the chute and have him sit in it.
4. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 until he readily sits in the chute.

Teaching Buddy to come into the chute

Yep, Sequence 2’s goal is indeed to teach your dog to come into the chute:
1. Heel your dog up to the chute, and tell him to stay.
2. Walk through the chute and face your dog.
3. Hold a treat in both hands below your waist.
4. Call your dog and, as he comes, bring your hands to your waist — using the treat to make him sit.
5. Give him the treat, praise, and release backward.

(See the section “Come with distractions” earlier in this chapter for info on the release backward.)

6. Practice Steps 1 through 5 about five times.
7. When your dog understands this part, leave him on a Stay three feet from the entrance of the chute and call him.
8. Increase in 2-foot increments the distance that you leave him facing the entrance of the chute, until he is 35 feet from the entrance.
You want to teach Buddy to sit as close as possible in front of you without touching you. Using treats, you can practice this sequence inside without the chute. Call him to you and use your treat to make him sit. Only give him the treat when he sits straight. If he doesn’t, try again.


In the ring, you’re not allowed to carry food or give second commands. You can give either a command or a signal but not both. The exception is the “Stay” command, which can be accompanied by the “Stay” signal.

Ultimately, Buddy has to sit in front of you with your hands hanging naturally at your side, so you need to wean him from seeing you with your hands in front of you. You can still reward him in practice when he does the exercise correctly.


After your dog comes to you and sits in front, the judge says “Finish.” You say “Buddy, heel,” and your dog goes to the Heel position. He can either go directly to Heel position to the left, or go to the right and walk behind you to Heel position. We like to teach both, just to keep the dog guessing. For the Finish to the left, we use the “Heel” command and for the Finish to the right, we use the “Place” command (see Teaching a Finish to the right). Actually, we prefer giving a signal because the dog more readily understands a signal than a command — and it more clearly indicates to the dog the way we want him to go. For the Finish to the left, use your left hand to indicate the direction in which you want Buddy to go, and for the Finish to the right, use your right hand.

Teaching a Finish to the left

Your Sequence 1 goal is to introduce Buddy to the Finish to the left:
1. Sit your dog at Heel position, say “Stay,” and step directly in front of him.
2. Say “Buddy, heel,” and then take a step back on your left leg, keeping the right leg firmly planted in place, as you guide him with a treat held in your left hand in a semicircle into Heel position.

Make the semicircle large enough so that he winds up in the correct position.

3. Give him the treat, praise, and release.
4. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 until he enthusiastically and briskly goes to heel.
You’ll quickly see that the guidance of your left hand becomes his signal to go to heel.


Any time we want a dog to move, we use his name before the command — for example, “Buddy, come.” Any time we don’t want him to move, we eliminate the name — for example, “Stay.” Using a dog’s name makes him excited and ready to move, and not using his name on the stationary exercises helps him to focus on the exercise and stay still. 

Teaching a Finish on command or signal

Your Sequence 2 goal is to teach Buddy to finish on command or signal:
1. Put the leash on the training collar.
2. Neatly fold the leash into your left hand.

3. Step in front, say “Buddy, heel,” and step back on your left leg, using the leash to guide him into Heel position.
4. Reward him with a treat, praise, and release.
5. Practice Steps 1 through 4 until he goes to heel without any tension on the leash.
6. Now eliminate the step back on the left leg, and experiment by using either the command or signal.

The signal is the same guiding motion you use in Sequence 1 (see the preceding section). 

Teaching a Finish to the right

The Finish to the right uses the same progressions as the finish to the left, except that you step back on the right leg and guide Buddy around behind you into Heel position. When you’re using a treat, you have to switch it behind your back from the right hand into the left. The same applies to the leash.
Your dog’s response to the Finish to the right or left tells you which direction is better for him. As a general rule, a long-bodied dog does better going to the right.

The Group Exercises

The group exercises are the last part of the Novice class test. They consist of a Long Sit and a Long Down for one and three minutes, respectively, and  they’re done off leash in a group. The number of dog/handler teams in a group depends on the number of exhibitors competing in the class and the size of the ring. The judge tells the teams to line up on one side of the ring. He or she then instructs the handlers to sit their dogs and leave their dogs, whereupon the handlers go to the opposite side of the ring, turn, and face their dogs. After a minute the judge gives the order to return and the handlers go back to their dogs, walking around behind the dogs to Heel position. The same procedure is followed for the three-minute Down. A dog that lies down during the Long Sit, sits during the Long Down, or moves out of position, receives a nonqualifying score.


When you’re training your dog, change only one variable at a time. When teaching a Stay, for example, change the distance or the time but not both together. Increase one, and increase the other when Buddy is steady.

Look at the Stay exercises from the perspective of time and distance. Teach Buddy to stay in place for a specific period of time with you about three feet in front. Then the first time you increase the distance from your dog, decrease the time you’re away from him.
Although you can give a command and/or signal for any Stay exercise, your dog’s Personality Profile (see Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Mind) influences whether you want to use a signal. Any Stay is a pack drive exercise, so you want your dog in pack drive. For dogs low in defense fight behaviors, a “Stay” signal puts them into defense drive where they’re uncomfortable. Using a “Stay” signal may cause the dog to break the Stay and come to you — or to whine and fidget.
Because he is competing for the Companion Dog title, Buddy already knows the basics of the Sit and Down-Stay. You just need to fill in the missing pieces, meaning you need to practice

Introducing self-generated distractions

To introduce self-generated distractions, put the leash on the collar, with the rings under his chin. Then say and signal “Stay,” and step three feet in front. Place your left hand against your belt buckle and hold your right hand ready to reinforce. Jump to the right, the middle, the left, the middle, forward, and backward. Any time Buddy wants to move, reinforce the stay. How vigorously you do these distractions depends on Buddy’s Personality Profile and your physical condition.
As he learns, add clapping and cheering. And periodically review these distractions in your training.

Increasing the level of difficulty

Practice with self-generated distractions off leash from about three feet and then six feet in front of Buddy to increase the level of difficulty. When Buddy is off leash, and you need to reinforce the Stay, slowly approach him and put him back by placing two fingers of each hand through the collar at the side of his neck. If he’s coming to you, put him back from in front — that is, guide him back to the spot where you left him in such a way that you’re facing him when you reinforce the Stay. Don’t repeat the command.
You also need to practice the Down-Stay, using the same distractions you did for the Sit-Say, both on and off leash.


Whenever you approach your dog, do so in a nonthreatening manner so he doesn’t become anxious. You never want your dog to become frightened when you approach him.

Gradually increase the time to two minutes for the Sit-Stay and four minutes for the Down-Stay. Although practical, these are boring exercises for both you and your dog. You usually don’t need to practice them every session. Once or twice a week suffices. Afterward, reward your dog with something he enjoys, like throwing a Frisbee or a stick.
When Buddy stays for the requisite length of time, gradually increase the distance you’re away from him to 35 feet. Increasing the distance should go quickly, because this exercise isn’t new for him. Finally, you need to practice in different locations and on different surfaces.

Oops: Playing the yo-yo game

Some handlers have unintentionally taught their dogs, or vice versa, what we call the yo-yo game. The scenario goes something like this:
1. Buddy is on a Sit-Stay with his handler standing 30 feet away.
2. Buddy lies down, and the handler approaches to reinforce the Stay.
3. Buddy sits up by himself, and the handler retreats.
This scenario can, and often does, deteriorate into the yo-yo game. Buddy lies down, the handler approaches, Buddy sits up, and the handler retreats, with Buddy not having learned a blessed thing — except perhaps how many times he can play the game.
Moral of the story? When you make a move — any move — to reinforce a command — any command — you must follow through, even if Buddy corrects himself before you’ve had a chance to reinforce the command. But always do it with a smile.
by Jack and Wendy Volhard